Saturday, October 07, 2017

Space Marvels! Be prepared to be wow'd... and proud...

Don't cheat yourselves of joy and pride. See just a glimpse of the marvels revealed by your Cassini mission to Saturn, the most discovered by curious humanity since God asked Adam to "name all the beasts." We're fulfilling that mission, and magnificently, gorgeously. You have reason to be proud to be a member of a species, civilization and nations that do stuff like this!

Another truly excellent article recaps in more detail the accomplishments of the spectacular 13 year Cassini-Huygens mission that explored Saturn, Titan, Enceladus and so much more.

On 12 October, asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass Earth, by as little as 4,200 miles. NASA is using this opportunity to test out some of its planetary defense systems. Measuring between 30 and 10 feet wide, it is just a little bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor that explodeded over Russia in February 2013, shattering thousands of windows and injuring hundreds. Planetary defense systems currently used by NASA focus on observations and monitoring via a network of observatories.  

I am on the advisory board of the Asteroid Institute and the B612 Foundation, which are dedicated to protecting the Earth through detection, research and diversion. 

Astrometry measures the positions and placement of heavenly objects and the Europeans have specialized in this art, with the Hipparcos and later Gaia missions. The most urgent finding from this paper? Gl 710, a K dwarf will pass close to the Sun in about 1.3 Myr, perhaps just 16 000 AU away, which will bring this star well within the Oort cloud, possibly perturbing a lot of comets. I propose that we urgently begin planning now! 

See where I propose a method to deal with this by moving the Earth. (The only plausible method that I know.)

In my short story “The Crystal Spheres,” generations of humans spend their lives battling a cometary infall.

I am also on the advisory External Council of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program. Here’s one of the crazier notions we've recently funded at NIAC. The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) project was first proposed back in 2015. AREE is a rover that uses Venus’ harsh conditions conditions to its advantage, relying on wind to power its mechanical computer and to communicate with a high altitude balloon via semaphore!  Steam punk indeed.   Since Venus’ atmosphere is about 90 times denser than Earth’s  and heats up to about 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), designers have to make something hearty enough to sustain seriously hellish conditions.”  I gave the young innovators a combined attaboy with many technical finger wags. And this year they came up with much better designs.

Only... as I was rising to ask them a question, it came to me in a flash how to make a video camera that has almost no electronics!  Just one high-temperature photo-diode and three impact spark crystals... and all the rest consisting of a lens and some gears! After all, what would a Venus lander be, without a camera? ;-)

== More space! More space! ==

At the Mars Society Conference last month, at UC Irvine, I served on a panel with Larry Niven, Gregory Benford and Geoffrey Landis, while Mars Society president Robert Zubrin posed questions. You can listen in to the podcast thanks to the Planetary Society, as we speculate on matters of human destiny in space. Jerry Pournelle was supposed to participate and sent his regrets... the last any of us heard from him, alas. RIP.

Veering closer to home. There's a lot of buzz because it was announced at the recent AGU meeting that the moon's lava flows suggest there's some water in the lunar mantle. Does this prove that I am wrong and there truly are accessible resources on the moon... other than small deposits of ice at the poles?

Sorry. The moon has lots of good stuff.  But almost none of it is FRACTIONATED or separated into highly concentrated ores. On Earth fractionation or separation mostly happened from geo processes, magmatic or especially water streams above and below ground.  In asteroids separation happened because a proto planet began to form and then broke up.  Nothing like such processes happened on the moon.  If there is mantle water, it is in parts per million and you’d need to dig very deep, then crush and melt the rock.  Good luck with that. Indeed, good luck finding anything useful to humanity on the lunar surface, for our immediate needs, across the next few decades. That polar ice should be left to future lunar colonists, since we can get plenty from asteroids.

== And yet more space! ==

A chain of small volcano cones has been found at the bottom of Valles Marinaris on Mars, dating back only a couple of hundred million years. Almost yesterday!

More utterly awesome images sent back by Juno from Jupiter. Wow ...  And these. And these. Enjoy.  And be proud.  I mean it. If you cannot find it in your heart to be fantastically proud of these... then be ashamed.

A way cool new amateur astronomy telescope co-sponsored by the SETI Institute frees the amateur from any need to handle tracking or identification of sky objects, does image enhancement and even let’s the scope automatically participate in pan-sky online surveys for research groups.

The BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module has spent more than 14 months attached to the Space Station.  Inflated to 14 cubic meters, its success opens the way for whole deployable-inflatable space stations, starting around 2020.

The Kepler telescope hunts for planets by looking for tiny dips in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front - known as a transit. To search for exomoons – moons circling a discovered exoplanet -- researchers are looking for a dimming of starlight before and after the planet causes its dip in light.  A candidate have been found, and a whopper!  This "exomoon" is likely to be about the size and mass of Neptune, and circles a planet the size of Jupiter but with 10 times the mass.  Very likely, the exomoon has moons.  What a universe.

A super-Earth has been discovered orbiting Tau Ceti, a star very much like our sun, just 12 light years away. The method – measuring radial velocity wobble – is different than the transit occultation approach and has more long term potential.  Scientists can almost  detect the wobble caused by an Earth sized body.

OMG how bizarre can the cults getApparently they can encourage evolution in action: people applying sunscreen directly totheir eyeballs in order to watch the solar eclipse. Yep we are a... diverse... species.  The "fermi" theory that makes sense? We're kept isolated because we provide incredible entertainment.

Cool video of a single cell ciliate “walking” along a stem.

Are neutron stars preyed upon by tiny black holes that them eat them from the inside? Might this explain many mysteries, such as Fast Radio Bursts and the existence of large quantities of Platinum-Uranium heavy elements?

Using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, scientists with the Breakthrough Listen initiative—a massive project dedicated to finding signs of intelligent alien life—recorded 15 repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) on August 26. “Several explanations for FRBs have been suggested. One is a cataclysmic event, such as a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. But such an event would produce only one burst and therefore does not explain the repeating pattern of FRB 121102. Another possible explanation is that they are coming from a young, highly magnetized neutron star, but so far nothing like this has been detected in this region of space. Despite widespread speculation, the possibility of the signals coming from an advanced alien civilization has been largely ruled out.”

Did Wernher Von Braun have a Twilight Zone predictive moment? "The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled 'Elon.' Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet." page 177 of The Mars Project.

An amazing, actually globular, image of Antares hints at stellar storms.

== Politics and Space == 

See a choice interview by Walter Cronkite with both Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein on the day humanity landed on the Moon, when Heinlein said we should change our calendars. We were a people like this!  In fact, we are vastly greater and better now… except in one way. Belief in ourselves and the can-do spirit. Those who have deliberately undermined that spirit are predators. They are the enemies of your children.

Space and science should not be "political" , except in the sense of calmly assigning budgets and priorities in a grownup and ambitious program of outreach. Certainly NASA's budget has been safer than almost any other science agency - perhaps because it lets Republicans claim: "Who, me? How can I be at war against science when I fund astronauts?"  Of course let's put aside the cancelation of almost all climate or resource or environmental monitoring satellites, or the banning of use of the word EARTH from most NASA mission statements...

...because this goes much deeper. Tune in here and see the high quality of perspicacious individuals Paul Ryan appoints to science related committees, as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology's Space Subcommittee asks a panel of planetary scientists to speculate about the possibility of a Martian civilization thousands (not billions) of years ago.

Others will comment on this and joke about it.  Or sob that this is the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science. But let me draw your attention to a point most will miss... Rohrabacher's reference to the Moon, which is the destination beloved of Republicans, who want the U.S. to join Russia, China, Europe, India and billionaires in scurrying to repeat dusty footprints on a sterile, useless (for the immediate future) rock.

A coalition of nearly all space scientists, Silicon Valley investors and - yes, democrats - prefer to go prospecting asteroids, whose resources might make mining on our planet obsolete, pouring forth riches of mind boggling proportions.  But then, that fact underlies the GOP eagerness to stop the asteroid platinum rush. 

Their ruling caste has sunk costs in Earthly resource extraction.  There's nothing on the moon to render those investments worthless.  So by all means, back to the lunar dustball!

The Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator is one of the Climate Denialists that the GOP have packed onto the U.S. House “Science Committee.”  Jim Bridenstone doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.  Ah.

Okay. Let’s be fair and give the fellow room. Though it’s hard to judge from dismal articles like this one: “Bridenstine has made it clear he wants the U.S. to re-establish its dominance on and around the moon, a destination that the Obama administration had largely ignored as it focused NASA’s resources on a long-term mission to Mars.”

A cosmically stupid lie. The immediate goal set by the Obama Administration and by almost every scientific advisory board was a cis-lunar or lunar orbital station. Such a station would allow testing of duration methods for a Mars journey, true, but would also serve as an ideal place to bring samples from asteroids — where the real wealth out there is to be found. Additional uses for such a station include certain defense applications, plus... one nifty idea I had...

...such a lunar orbital station might provide (for profit!) services to other nations who wannabe next to plant dusty footprints on the utterly useless (for the foreseeable future) lunar surface. Put up a Lunar Orbit Hotel and Rest Stop and Lander Garage for all the paying tourists and national pride seekers!

More seriously, I remain perplexed. Why is this issue partisan? What’s with the Republicans’ quasi-religious obsession - cancelling anything to do with asteroids and insisting instead on replicating Apollo, going back down to the same dusty plains we visited decades ago, just like all the other wannabes? I can think of no reason for this GOP fixation, other than “if the scientists and Silicon Valley guys and Obama wanted something, we must cancel it and do the opposite.”

But let’s always hope. Welcome, Director Bridenstone. Here’s wishing you – and our hopes – well.

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28 comments:

Travis Bird said...

About Venus: Would that refrigerator laser you created for Sundiver work to cool a Venusian surface probe?

David Brin said...

Yes but you'd have to really blast the surroundings with bolts of furious heat., You would seem to be attacking Venus!

donzelion said...

Shouldn't it be possible to explore asteroid remnants in craters on the Moon? I would think lighter elements in asteroids would explode/vaporize (what's the right term?), but heavier elements (like platinum) could potentially survive nearly intact. On Earth, plate tectonics/vulcanism could erase/bury those impacts, making discovery quite difficult (but cheaper).

"Indeed, good luck finding anything useful to humanity on the lunar surface,"
Maybe not on the immediate surface, but boring down a few meters deep, looking for cores of impacting objects? After a few 'successful' finds on the Moon (not necessarily commercially exploitable, merely 'notable' quantities) could prove out rich veins in asteroids...

David Brin said...

donzelion, have you any idea how fast these things come in? Oh, sure, if you drag a magnet through lunar regolith - vast amounts of it - you may pick up particles. But digging and trawling and sifting and melting... argh. Hey... I am fine with snding more robots down and being proved wrong.

LarryHart said...

@Tim H and @Paul SB,

I responded to you both at the end of the previous thread, even after Dr Brin's "onward". The response doesn't really belong on this thread, but check it out if you wish.

MadLibrarian said...

And, on the 'more plus' side, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea has received the go ahead blessing for construction; the land use permit passed. Unfortunately, many of the protesters are going to try dragging it through the courts on appeal yet another time, despite the TMT having bent over backwards to try to appease everyone.

Kevin Davis said...

I find nothing wrong with NASA with putting more Astronauts in space.

Tim H. said...

I can easily imagine problems that won't be solved until a lot of minds and hands are brought to bear on them, rather than the choreographed space exploration that we can do, but it's going to need some breakthroughs before the practical folk can exploit them. Decades of boring work before we can begin to live space operas.

Tony Fisk said...

Apart from perturbing comets from our Oort Cloud, GI710 will doubtless have its own retinue we will be plowing straight into, and think of the denizens of planets around GI710 being monstered by a G-type bully!

Smurphs said...

Dr. Brin,do have any opinions or insight int what might be going on with Comet C/2017 K2?

http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2017-40

Paul SB said...

"What’s with the Republicans’ quasi-religious obsession - cancelling anything to do with asteroids and insisting instead on replicating Apollo, going back down to the same dusty plains we visited decades ago, just like all the other wannabes?"

- A simple answer to this one: it's the nature of conservatism. Conservatives are always backwards-looking. The old farts in government were young men when Apollo made the US the envy of much of the world. It's the pride they are grasping for, stupidly unable to see all the things we have now that are worth being proud of. They think we need to make America what it was a long time ago (they insist that the past means great). They have been listening to their own apocalyptic propaganda and really believe the the world is going down the drain. If you repeat it often enough...

It reminds me of something I read in a college history class that suggested that Hitler could have won if he had taken the nuclear project more seriously. But he was as backwards thinking as any conservative. The power of tanks and planes he saw in WW I impressed him at a young age and his approach to the war was centered on them. Belief is very capable of ignoring the real world and going in foolish directions - and more often than not, surviving the consequences and still never learning the lesson. This is one of the reasons that evolutionary models work so well with other animals but so often fall flat with humans.

LarryHart said...

Hey, is anyone else watching "Designated Survivor"? I'm in the middle of binge-watching season one, and I can't stop. I haven't cared about any tv show since "The West Wing", but so far, this one is extremely well written and plotted.

It needs a more exciting catch phrase than "Please, take a seat", though.

Paul451 said...

Donzelion,
Re: Asteroid impact metals.

IIRC, lunar regolith contains between half and one percent elemental iron by mass; the vast majority from metallic asteroid impacts. That's just the splash. There'll be larger chunks buried in craters, but that's not necessary early on. You can just run a magnet over the regolith and pick up the elemental metal. Then, barring a need for quality, just use RF emitters to sinter the iron powder into crude cast iron parts. (It also serves as an activator and reinforcing so you can use the same process to sinter bulk regolith into solid building or paving blocks.)

Essentially the easiest form of asteroid mining might be on the moon.

Re: Digging down for history.

I've mentioned before what I consider the biggest resource on the moon: Each comet or "wet" asteroid impact will add a new layer as the vapour preferentially deposits at the poles, thickness of each layer depending on the size of the impactor. In between each "wet" impact, random dust from the larger number "dry" impacts will build up a thinner layer of dust, making a nice demarcation between "wet" impacts. Depending on the amount of micrometeorite "farming" of the surface layers, there might be a stratigraphic layering of the impact history of the moon going back as far as the polar craters have existed. Billions of years of impact history? Neatly layered, categorised, and sorted for your convenience. Best case, clear layers of volatiles separated by thin layers of dust. Worst case, a mushier trend line, but still insanely valuable.

I've also said before that it stuns me that this hasn't become a huge priority for NASA. A few token missions that sneak in at the bottom end of funding once a decade or so.

(Simulation of the same thing in Greenland, ironically by NASA.)

--

Tony,
"and think of the denizens of planets around GI710 being monstered by a G-type bully!"

Trump as a Ming the Merciless?

donzelion said...

"What’s with the Republicans’ quasi-religious obsession - cancelling anything to do with asteroids and insisting instead on replicating Apollo, going back down to the same dusty plains we visited decades ago, just like all the other wannabes?"

Agree that this is the core of 'make America great again' - revert to previous triumphs, nostalgia, romance. I lack much basis to critique Dr. Brin's views as to the utility of lunar expeditions; seems to me there's precious little we can do there that robots can't do just as well, which is also likely to be the case on Mars.

Disagree that this is the core of conservativism: the current crop of 'conservatives' uniquely deviate from the standard course of prudent growth from a strong foundation - this group sees most of the 'progress' as a cancer to be radiated. The 'conservativism' typified by Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Obama, was moderate pragmatism working to preserve and maintain what exists. Carter and Bush Jr. were more radical; Trump a regrettable dunce.

I'm more concerned about intentionally blinding an eye toward public satellites pointed back at Earth: private finance of space exploration will ultimately serve private interests and purposes, some of which may ultimately contribute to the public good, but many of which may serve much narrower concerns. The use of stars to create calendars made oligarchy feasible; I hate to think of them being abused once more.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

I'm not sure I would agree that Reagan and Shrub the First were conservatives of the old school, though they certainly painted themselves out to be. Things they did to monkey with the tax codes and the 401K, if they weren't deliberately designed to increase the wealth of the already wealthy and screw the rest of the country, then you have to argue for a level of incompetence that might work for Bush but seems doubtful for Reagan.

Larry,

I answered you on the previous thread, if you are interested.

Funny, when I saw that picture of Cassini, at first I thought it was the box on a Lego set or some model kit. I wouldn't mind having a nice model of Cassini hanging from my ceiling. Has anyone seen the Cassini model at the California Science Center? It's very well made, though if I had made it I would have touched it up to look like it wasn't fresh out of the box.

Tony Fisk said...

"and think of the denizens of planets around GI710 being monstered by a G-type bully!"

Trump as a Ming the Merciless?


Trump the Twitterless:"Paulus, I'm bored! What plaything can you offer me today?
Paulus: An obscure body in the SK system, your Majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet... "Ea-rth".
TtT: How peaceful it looks. ...Earthquake? Hurricane?? WHERE'S MY PAPER TOWEL DISPENSER!!??


I'm not sure I would agree that Reagan and Shrub the First were conservatives of the old school

I deliberately refer to the latter day GOP as "self-servatives", because conservatism is the last item on their agenda.

David Brin said...

At NIAC we fund several notions for robotically exploring the Moon. I am fine with that. Prove me wrong! But so far, there's little sign of anything tempting except for some lunar polar ice that should be left for future colonists.

Andrew K said...

"the Chelyabinsk meteor that explodeded over Russia"

Hey Mr Brin, are you trying to get some work speechwriting for George Bush? I kid of course :-)

LarryHart: RE Designated Survivor

Excellent first season definitely and as an outsider looking in it almost seems like a fantasy tale, wherein a competent and well-meaning individual pragmatically works to solve problems within the democratic framework of the American system. But I dare say when you live in the country and get more than the daily dose of "WTF???!!!" the rest of us see of America, there's plenty of good people trying to get things done.

Not so happy so far with the second season. I'll give it a chance and I'll no say anything because spoilers :-)

J.L.Mc said...

This Venus rover, have they figured out how it could do chemical analysis non-electrically? I'd imagine any chemical analysis may involve weighing samples to try and guess molecular weights, but that wouldn't be too useful without other devices as well.
I wonder if this rover could use the nanotech mechanical linkage logic gates robert merckle invented?

Paul SB said...

Andrew,

Believe me, a lot of Americans are pretty flabbergasted by all the WTFs that come out of this place. At times I wonder if we simply have the stupidest people on the planet in residence here, but I know from talking to people from elsewhere that every nations has its utter morons, and its scum that rises to the top. I couldn't honestly say if it's really worse here than anywhere else, but between Washington daytime TV (Springer and similar), every day is a new face palm.

Tony,

I like your /self-servative/ term. I was about to say that it's sad how few people see through those bastards, but I'm not sure that really is the problem so much as that their propaganda blatantly claims that being evil, self-serving vampires sucking the nation dry, driving people to poverty and causing millions upon millions of preventable deaths makes them "smart." The very idea of being against progress as a general rule is a rather bizarre pathology. It's not hard to see where it comes from. The myth of the Cold War is that the enemy were people who thought they were helping the world but really just plunged it into deeper despotism. So in the book of maladaptive overreactions we go to the opposite extreme, mistrusting any attempts to make our lives better. The Indignation Addiction that Dr. Brin describes in "Existence" is a natural consequence of that "trust no one" mentality. The other side of that, which I don't remember coming up in that book (though he can correct me if my memory is wrong) is the pathology of those who buy their propaganda. Being constantly goaded into anger by self-serving politicians and the corporate masters who own them affects not just their dopamine levels, it sensitizes their amygdalas, the fear centers of their brains. That makes it easier and easier to get them riled up, and harder and harder for them to calm back down. I don't know if it's an overreach to suggest that this jingoism is making paranoid schizophrenics out of people. Amygdala hypertrophy is a real thing, and we have a great example of it among our regulars here.

Darrell E said...

donzelion said...

"I lack much basis to critique Dr. Brin's views as to the utility of lunar expeditions; seems to me there's precious little we can do there that robots can't do just as well, which is also likely to be the case on Mars."

I've never completely agreed with the position that robots can do just as well as humans, or better, at space exploration. I agree that given the technological and economic limitations that have obtained so far that robotics have been the only reasonable choice. But in absolute terms I don't think there is any contest. Humans are far better. Robotics will eventually be better perhaps, although I have some arguments for that as well, but to date and for the near future they are not. Rather, robotics already have many advantages over humans, but not enough to offset the advantages that humans have. The best case is humans working in close proximity with robotic tools.

The catch as mentioned is technological and economic capabilities. If these limiting factors were low enough we would send humans and we would get much more accomplished per unit of time. And there would be plenty of humans eager to do such work.

Darrell E said...

David Brin said:

"A coalition of nearly all space scientists, Silicon Valley investors and - yes, democrats - prefer to go prospecting asteroids, whose resources might make mining on our planet obsolete, pouring forth riches of mind boggling proportions."

My science fiction inspired dreams of humanity making its first serious steps into becoming a space faring species are bolstered a bit by your positive point of view about asteroid mining. Many years ago, 10 or more, I made a comment on this site, or its precursor, to the effect that utilizing off-world resources would be of major benefit and that doing so was a worthwhile reason for continuing to develop our space capabilities.

You responded to the effect that utilizing off-world resources was too difficult to be feasible. An argument I was very familiar with but was not expecting to hear from you. I was a bit depressed! Because I give respectable weight to your opinion on such subjects. Now, seeing your change of opinion, I'm a bit more cheerful about our prospects.

Jacob said...

Hi Larry,

I didn't watch Designated Survivor very long. It was clear that it wasn't trying for realism at all. I had two major issues that convinced me it wasn't worth watching.

The Governors requiring the President to do what they wanted or they wouldn't select new reps.
- If they didn't have faith in him, sending new people in immediately is only sensible act. If you planned to have your state leave the US, perhaps. If 50 governors are considering that, stick a fork in the US. It would have taken less than a week for hundreds of reps to be selected.

The FBI finding out that the one guy was involved in killing most of the government and keeping quite about it.
- David Brin frequently goes on about idiot plots. There is no scenario in which an Intelligence gathering organization thinks its best to "Keep this to yourself for now."

raito said...

PaulSB,

Since Heinlein was mentioned, and I'm working my way through Expanded Universe (I've read all the stories before, of course, but not the commentary), I'll point out that you're making Heinlien's arguments all over again.

Preparing for the last thing is never as good as preparing for the next thing.

cf. my poorly-received comments on being prepared for the future vs. creating that future delivered to the school' district's long-range planning committee (of which I was a member). Only the teachers cheered.

Dr. Brin,

Moon at the new Mt. Everest? Wonderful... If that were the only case, I'd say have the transit station and the moon base. Control both ends, as it were.

I do still think there's value in having the moon base, even if it's not for resource extraction. A permanent low-gravity place where space (heh) isn't a problem would be useful.

I would've said that the moon is an easier sell than the asteroids because we've done that, and reproducing a previous feat is an easier sell. But there's Stardust and Hayabusa. Still, probably an easier political sell to go to the moon. Especially with Cold War-obsessed older politicians. I'd still rather go back to the moon than go nowhere.

LarryHart said...

@Jacob,

My bar for tv is awfully low, and most current shows still don't meet it. "Designated Survivor" at least kept me interested. Cynically, part of the enjoyment is watching an administration that actually projects competence. I had the same wry feeling watching "The West Wing" during the George W Bush administration.


The FBI finding out that the one guy was involved in killing most of the government and keeping quite about it.
- David Brin frequently goes on about idiot plots. There is no scenario in which an Intelligence gathering organization thinks its best to "Keep this to yourself for now."


That one did bother me, especially the female agent keeping quiet. Unlike her superior, she seemed "hostage immune". Keeping quiet didn't seem to gain her anything. If you know some might kill you because you're the only one who knows something, then the best strategy is to make that knowledge public.

David Brin said...

Darrell E... another explanation may be that you misinterpreted my earlier remarks. But onward.

onward

onward

occam's comic said...

Large, reusable rockets do seem to have the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of tossing material into low earth orbit.

Most star trek nerds think that this is the most wonderful news because it would reduce the cost of human space exploration / settlement. I think that it is true launch cost would be much less, but human space exploration would still be very expensive, it still has enormous technological problems to solve (long term life support, space based industrial processing), and the economic case for human space exploration / settlement is dubious at best and more likely to be a giant financial black hole.

The one organization on the earth with the most experience in low earth orbit and the biggest budget is the US Military. With the reduced launch cost, the first thing they will do is give the information sensing, communication and control satellites a massive upgrade. You should be able to end up with 24/7 multispectral imaging of almost all of the earth, with an ability to focus and track thousands of targets simultaneously. The communication satellites should allow every soldier to have fast high bandwidth connection to base at all times.

After the nonlethal satellite upgrades are in place, orbital kinetic kill weapons (Orwell’s Orbiting Boots) offer a quantum leap in power projection. A wide range of mass for the orbital boots gives military personal the ability to destroy everything from a single terrorist to an aircraft carrier anywhere on the earth within 10 minutes. It is like having the whole world in your crosshairs at all times.

Once a system like this is in place, the US military has the opportunity to restructure itself so that it is a much smaller in manpower, more precise, more lethal and less expensive and less environmentally damaging. Most overseas bases could be greatly reduced or eliminated, aircraft carrier based power projection could be eliminated or greatly reduced. Conventional land based military operations (think tank battel) become even more obsolete than they are now. With continued development of high power solid state lasers, we have the opportunity to put them in orbit and make them solar powered, giving the US the potential to destroy military aircraft in flight in an economically efficient way while minimizing the environmental cost (in comparison to the other ways to destroy military aircraft).

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